I don't know how many people here in the US have noticed, but the European Community is getting worried about how well its member countries are doing in drug research. Their Pharmaceutical Forum group has met twice so far, trying to recommend changes in drug pricing, rewards for innovation, information transfer to patients, and other areas.
I'll let one of the co-chairmen, Guenter Verheugen, explain the problem:
". . .The time has passed that Europe was the pharmacy of the world. True, our industry still has an inherent strength. But we are losing competitive ground to the United States and, increasingly, to China, India, Singapore and others. There are many worrying signals. Let me mention just two:
First, the widening gap in pharmaceutical research: Over the last 15 years investment in pharmaceutical R&D has been growing in the US significantly and consistently faster than in Europe.
Second, the development of key medicines: In the past, Europe was leading in developing the most successful breakthrough pharmaceuticals. This trend has reversed. In 2004, two thirds of the 30 top selling medicines in the world were developed in the USA."
All of the things the group is looking at seem worthwhile. But I wonder how many of them will do anything to actually change that trend? Phrases like "fair reward for innovation" and "alternative pricing and reimbursement mechanisms" point to one that might. These seem to be carefully worded calls to let the drug companies make a bit more money, in the hopes that they might find it worthwhile to make some more drugs.
That's bound to help. It's true that the United States market is where the money is made in this business, and it can't be a coincidence that this is where a lot of the innovation is coming from. But you can always develop a drug in Europe and sell it in the US, right? No, I think that there are other factors at work, cultural ones that no high-level multinational task force is going to pin down.
Perhaps I think this way because I used to work for a European company, and now work in Cambridge (home of a zillion startups). But I've long thought that there's a different attitude to research and development in this country, a greater willingness to try odd ideas and to put money behind them. I'm not saying that you don't find innovation in Europe, because you certainly can. But I think that innovators have, on the average, an easier time getting funded and being taken seriously over here. It's not a huge difference, but it's a steady one, and it's been compounding over time.